THE phenomenon of young people rebelling against the administration of adults is exceptional in a land like Korea, where Confucian ethics, a rigid family system, and respect for elders still predominate. But it is not without precedent. Paradoxically, it was the student Syngman Rhee, campaigning in the late 1800s against the excesses and corruption of the old Yi Dynasty, who provided a model for later student opposition.
Students also played a major role in the Samil Day passive resistance movement against Japanese oppression in 1919. On that day, thirtythree patriots met in the Blue Moon restaurant in Seoul, signed a declaration of independence, and then walked outside to be met — and some of them killed — by the bayonets and clubs of Japanese police. The independence movement was joined by Koreans around the world, including a patriot in exile in the United States named Syngman Rhee. In 1929, a student-led uprising against the Japanese was centered in Kwangju, in the southern Cholla Namdo province. In 1946, students of Sinuiju on the Yalu River protested against their Communist oppressors through demonstrations that eventually became violent.
On April 19 of this year, the students, spurred by a series of police and administration excesses, spoke out again for the populace. On this occasion, time, history, and the policies of his own government combined to make Dr. Rhee the object of, rather than a participant in, the uprising.
Violence first occurred following protests of irregularities in the March 15 election in Masan, a southern port city. Dr. Rhee was running unopposed for the presidency after the sudden death in the United States of his Democratic opponent, Chough Pyung Ok. Dr. Rhee’s running mate, Speaker of the National Assembly Lee Ki Poong, faced certain defeat in his second campaign against Democratic candidate and incumbent Vice President Dr. John M. Chang. Dr. Chang had defeated Mr. Lee by some 200,000 votes in the 1956 election.
Recent testimony at the Seoul district court has confirmed what citizens of Masan and later the whole nation had suspected: because the defeat of Lee was considered a certainty in fair elections, Liberal Party leaders set out to ensure victory in elections that were superbly rigged.
Ballot casting in groups of three and five men, intimidation of voters, and kidnaping of opposition-party election observers were among the techniques American-educated Home Minister Choi In Kyu ordered his National Police to employ in guaranteeing victory. “Use machine guns if necessary,” Mr. Choi admitted telling his police chiefs.
Election fraud was only the beginning. Once the string was tugged, the whole corrupt administration tumbled, exposing wholesale cases of tax evasion, illegal loan grants, misuse of foreign exchange and aid funds, conspiracy with hoodlums, and evidence of plotted assassinations. Most of the accusations were directed at Lee Ki Poong and the secretaries, advisers, and friends whom Mr. Lee installed around aging Dr. Rhee. The major crime of Dr. Rhee, although admittedly he was no stranger to tough politics, was that he was overstaying his time. He had lost all control of the situation, and his infirmities were easily exploited by less dedicated men around him.
In a dramatic oriental gesture of atonement, Mr. Lee was killed by his eldest son in a family suicide pact that also took the lives of his wife, the well-known Methodist educator Marie Park, and both of their sons. After violent rioting that took at least 170 lives and lasted into the month of May, Rhee resigned, and an interim government led by onetime Prime Minister Huh Chung took over to shape a second republic.
The interim government
Sitting, as he reportedly does, hour after hour staring out across Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in the exile he has taken up for the second time in his 85 years, Syngman Rhee’s thoughts must be mixed. Since his flight May 29 in a chartered Nationalist Chinese civil air transport plane, the 22 million people in the overcrowded Republic of Korea have made some long strides toward the kind of democratic government Dr. Rhee was always talking about but was somehow unwilling or unable to provide.
The constitution was amended, restoring the cabinet-controlled system abolished by Rhee five years ago. The interim government arrested election criminals and big businessmen who had helped to finance the fraudulent elections. Trials held throughout the summer uncovered a shocking amount of corruption. Dr. Rhee’s own bodyguard was revealed as having close connections with hoodlum groups. The government information officer, Dr. Chun Sung Chun, who received his theology degree at Yale University, admitted illegally closing the opposition, Catholic-supported Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper and misusing government funds in the election. Song In Sang, former Finance Minister, who often drew praise from U.S. Embassy officials for his ability, confessed to misuse of government and aid funds. The parade of officials who were involved in the graft and corruption of the Rhee Administration was seemingly endless.
New elections were held July 29 for members of the National Assembly (the 233-seat lower House of Representatives and the 58-seat upper House of Councilors). The elections were observed by teams from the United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea, and it was generally agreed that they were the fairest in Korea’s history.
The Democratic Party, which had opposed Dr. Rhee’s Liberals for twelve years, gained majorities in both houses. Left embarrassingly in the wake of the Democratic sweep were the Popular Socialist Party, the Socialist Party, and other progressive groups who campaigned on platforms that included advocacy of trade and exchanges with Communist North Korea. Their spokesmen had made optimistic preelection predictions but later admitted they had misgauged the sentiments of the people, who still grimly remember the Communist aggression of 1950.
The average Korean will admit that his anti-Communism was conditioned more by the wartime excesses of the Communists themselves than by American aid or theories transmitted by USIA evangelists of democracy. The general feeling is that by now, had the Communists refrained from aggression and allowed the general air of suspicion of American intentions prevalent in the period from 1949 to 1950 to develop, Korea might be further to the left or even completely in the Communist camp.
This anti-Communism was also a large factor in preventing footholds of Communist agitation following the April revolution. “The Communist agents in our midst were caught off guard by the suddenness of the uprisings,” one Korean official said.
A long-standing feud between the old and new factions of the Democratic Party was smoothed over long enough on August 12 to allow a joint session of the legislature to elect the 68-year-old, Edinburgheducated Yun Posun as President for a five-year term by a comfortable majority. It was expected that the former old-guard leader Yun would name the new faction leader and Manhattan College graduate Dr. John M. Chang as his Premier. Instead he named the old-guard Democratic leader, the bald, cigarsmoking economics expert, Kim Do Yun as his choice for Premier. The nomination was voted down by the House of Representatives as Kim lacked three votes for a simple majority confirmation.
President Yun then submitted the name of Dr. Chang, and the vote on August 19 gave him a two-vote margin above the number required for a majority in the 233-member lower house. Chang, who in 1956 was shot in the hand by an assassin’s bullet when he was a powerless Vice President under Rhee, formed a new government with a coalition cabinet of Democratic old and new faction members and Independents. But his shaky majority makes his future path at best a tightrope.
Rejuvenating the economy
The most formidable task confronting the new government is rejuvenation of the sagging economy. Almost everyone has predicted an economic crisis for this winter. The most serious problem is the widespread decrease in industrial production. This is blamed on a critical power shortage and also on the difficulty of obtaining funds when they are needed for financing and purchase of raw materials. Tight credit policies have been effected to check creeping inflation, but industrialists say this is hampering their activities.
Vast loan issues forced by the ousted Liberal Party regime in connection with the rigged March 15 elections constitute another danger. A total of about $14 million in various loans was released during the first three months of this year. The money is now forming a huge store of latent purchasing power which threatens price stability. This cash accumulation is likely to spark fresh commodity speculation and contribute to inflation. Unemployment, estimated variously at between 500,000 and 2,000,000, is another worry.
The Democrats, like their Liberal predecessors, are requesting continued U.S. aid assistance at about $200 million per year to keep the economy stable. While promising better utilization of aid funds, the Democrats so far have failed to come up with any sound programs. Their most imaginative proposal to reduce government expenditures is to cut the 600,000-man Korean Army, one of the largest in the world. This, however, would simultaneously increase unemployment.
Partial relief of Korea’s economic plight lies in improved relations with Japan. Some advance has been made toward rapprochement, but great emotional barriers still exist, following the forty years of Japanese occupation earlier in this century.
Since the April uprising, the United States Operations Mission in Korea (International Cooperation Administration) has carefully reassessed its own position and activities during the past few years and, under director Dr. Raymond T. Moyer, is at least making an effort to correct past mistakes. Recent American insistence on adjustment of the hwan-dollar exchange rate, hiking of power rates, manipulation of money supply, and payment of certain taxes not previously demanded into the counterpart fund have somewhat strained the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea. The American side, however, is generally more optimistic over Korea’s economic future than are most Korean officials.
The attitude toward Americans
The personal relations of Americans with Koreans are gradually improving, but the unconscious condescension of Americans in their daily contacts with Koreans has a grating effect. Recent emphasis on Korean language instruction among American servicemen and civilians has helped to dispel the image of the rich, arrogant American.
The Korean War and subsequent events have for the time being precluded in Korea the socialist and anti-American phase that the Japanese are experiencing. In the years just ahead, at least mild expressions of resentment of Americans and leftward drift must be expected, understood, and contended with.
Khrushchev has accepted an invitation to visit North Korea early in October, and his pronouncements from there could shift the Cold War spotlight to Asia once again. The Khrushchev visit significantly comes just prior to the U.S. presidential election, and in Korea, an area which was a prime issue in the 1952 presidential campaign.